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Wedding Music 101

The average wedding length, when the ceremony and reception are in the same venue, is six hours. A wedding can be thought of as having four sections. The ceremony is first and usually lasts no more than 30 minutes (with another 30 minutes allotted for guest arrival). Next, cocktail hour is, of course, an hour. Dinner follows cocktail hour and can include cake cutting and toasts and is usually an hour to 90 minutes. Last, dancing begins following dinner and uses up the remaining time (so eat quickly if you want to dance longer!).

From a music planning perspective, these four sections allow for of a variety of music, styles and vibes. For example, when your guests arrive at your ceremony, what do you want it to sound like? Traditional? Contemporary? Elegant? Edgy? There are so many options and your choices can help define the mood. Think about if you want recorded music played or live musicians to perform. Your venue layout may determine your options; a small room filled with seating may be difficult for an ensemble to perform.

When your guests leave the ceremony and enter your cocktail hour – what will the vibe be? Some couples prefer a traditional playlist, featuring classics from Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Al Green, etc. Other folks may incorporate a seasonal mix (i.e. tropical music in the summer). You could mix genres, eras and tempos of the music. Popular themes for cocktail hour soundtracks include Lounge, Jazz, Crooner, Pop, Electronic, Indie and Instrumental. These sounds can represent your taste, what you think your guests will like, or a mix of both. Just remember, the music should be in background and serve as a pulse to the party, not overwhelm it. This is a time when friends and family are catching up, so the songs should enhance this gathering, not interfere.

During dinner, guests are still socializing, gazing at the bride and groom and catching up – but often in a more relaxed manner. Therefore, the music becomes a little more predominant. This part of the evening is a good chance for your DJ to play music that you really want to hear, but that might not make sense during dancing. A good DJ will look at your “Must Play” list and determine which songs will be appropriate for this part of the evening and which will work on the dance floor. As the meal goes on and nears the end, the music should increase in tempo to keep the energy of the reception going. By the time dinner ends, your guests are going to be begging to get up and boogie.

The fourth and final section of a wedding is the open dancing portion. This follows dinner and any special dances (first dance, mother son, etc). The music is usually a mix of the couples’ requests, current hits, wedding classics and popular throwbacks. This mix of music is often similar at a lot of weddings. However, It’s the first three portions of the evening – ceremony, cocktail hour and dinner – that are the most unique. Each can reflect your musical taste, creativity and desire to either stick with or break free from tradition. Remember you have more than just dance music to consider and have multiple sections where you can fit in your requests. If you’re a music fan, have fun planning your wedding and coordinate with your DJ to create the perfect soundtrack to your special day.

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